Pubdate: Wed, 18 Oct 2006
Source: Eastern Daily Press (Norwich, UK)
Copyright: 2006sArchant Regional
Author: Mark Nicholls


Patients from across Norfolk are to take part in a  national study to 
test whether cannabis extract can  help to slow the progress of 
multiple sclerosis.

The trial will involve 20 patients from the Norfolk and  Norwich 
University Hospital who will take the extract  in pill form and be 
closely monitored over a  three-and-half-year period.

Two-thirds of the patients will receive the drug, while  the 
remaining third will be given a placebo.

The trial patients have already been earmarked and one  of the first 
patients to try the new cannabis drug will  be Geoffrey Harris, from 
North Cove near Lowestoft, who  was diagnosed with MS five years ago.

He said: "The new drug may not be the be all and end  all but at 
least it's an attempt to do something to  help. Anything that can 
make inroads into this  condition has got to be good. It is not going 
to stop  the progression but I am hoping it will slow it down  and 
that will be a godsend to anybody living with this  disabling condition."

An active member of an MS support group in Lowestoft,  Mr Harris, 51, 
travelled the world with his job as a  mechanical engineer and was 
devastated when his illness  forced him to give up. But he added: "I 
think it's  brilliant that the trial is taking place. It is well 
known that cannabis can have a bad effect on people who  become 
addicted for the wrong reasons but if there is  good that can come 
from it in this way, then so be it."

Mr Harris, who lives with wife Amanda and son Oliver,  10, at North 
Cove, Lowestoft, begins the trial on  November 9.

There are currently around 1,000 MS patients living in  Norfolk. Most 
sufferers initially have the relapsing  and remitting form of the 
disease but the majority will  eventually develop the progressive 
form, which tends to  have the most impact on long-term disability. A 
smaller  proportion of patients have progressive symptoms right  from 
the beginning.

N&N neurology consultant Dr Martin Lee said: "There are  some drug 
therapies now available for patients with  relapsing and remitting MS 
but we still have no proven  therapy for patients with progressive 
disease. This  study is aimed at patients with progressive MS."

Patients taking part in the trial are aged from 18 to  65 and must 
conform to a strict set of criteria - such  as their disease not 
being so advanced that they need  to use a wheelchair. Trial numbers 
are limited but if  it proves positive the medication may become 
available to a larger number of patients.

In total the study will involve 500 patients in at  least 20 health 
centres across the UK. Patients will  attend the N&N every six months 
and will undergo  clinical assessment and MRI scans to check on the 
progress of their disease. Dr Lee added: "We are  keeping an open 
mind and it will be very interesting to  see how the trial goes over 
the next three and a half  years."

Four years ago, another trial of cannabis-based  medication was held 
in Norfolk and produced evidence of  its painkilling potential.

The research was carried out by Dr Willy Notcutt at his  pain clinic 
at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston  and focused on 34 patients 
with multiple sclerosis  spinal cord injury and other conditions 
causing severe  pain, who had not responded well to current medications.

When they were treated with the cannabis-based  medication 28 said it 
had reduced pain and helped them  to sleep better Each patient was 
treated with three  different types of medication containing 
different levels of the active ingredients of cannabis.
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